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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Why I can’t call Carleton home

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I love Carleton, I really do. It has given me opportunities to learn and grow academically and personally in ways I never imagined. I love the physics department and community for their friendship, community, and support. My professors are the coolest people I know. I’ve made incredible memories and friendships that I’ll never forget. I like saying hello to the custodians and workers on campus. I like our tiny campus and watching it change through the seasons. My favorite places on campus are the Hill of Three Oaks and Goodsell Observatory because I’m convinced they’re the best places to look at the night sky. Four years here, I know the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of Carleton. Over the years, Carleton became a familiar place for me, but I don’t know if I could ever call it home.

Last spring, Kao Kalia Yang ‘03, a Minnesota Hmong-American writer, gave a convocation talk called “Returning To Our Stories”, about returning to Carleton and what kind of home it was for her. I cried nearly the entire time. I knew exactly what it was like to grow up as an immigrant daughter with blue-collar parents in America and then attend a predominantly white institution. Even now, when I think about her talk or watch the video, I cry, because she spoke so expressively and told a story close to my heart. For Yang, Carleton is “an academic home,” a place where she gained the vocabulary and courage to face the world. Carleton, for me too, is an “academic home”. I learned how to think and write essays, but it did not teach me how to cure the “exhaustion of the human heart”, like Yang says. In fact, Carleton was, more often than not, the source of my heart’s exhaustion. When I decided to attend Carleton, I didn’t realize what I had to give up and go through to be here. I just didn’t know what to expect four years ago.

One day my freshman year, I realized all the people around me at that moment were all white. I often found myself as the only person of color in a room. This had never happened to me before, and I didn’t understand how it made me feel. Now, I’ve realized the feeling to be loneliness.

At home, if I ever addressed an adult by their first name, I’d be scolded. I can guarantee that my name will not be pronounced correctly at graduation. I don’t get to hear or speak my mother tongue as often as I would at home. Luckily, a couple of the Sayles ladies speak my language, so I love talking to them, but I still feel so disconnected from my family and culture.

I don’t like it when it’s as-umed that all Carls have done, read, or watched certain things prior to college, like we all had the same childhood experiences by virtue of being a “quirky” and “nerdy” Carl. Growing up, my parents never read bedtime stories to me because all the books were in English, and they were too exhausted from working all day or were working the night shift. Someone once told my friend that they weren’t a “true Carl” because they had never read Harry Potter. They hadn’t read Harry Potter because growing up , they were still learning English and needed to help their parents with the house and look after younger siblings.

Last spring, a student received a note that said, “Get your Mexican ass outta here mothafucka.” This was not directed at me, nor am I Mexican, but as a fellow student of color, my heart hurt. I feel the same way about the #purge tweet earlier this term. There are more incidents like these, and they all make me feel unsafe and like I don’t belong.

Yang talked about “fighting to belong” in a community, but I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve been to events, attended and organized rallies, and talked to students and staff, but it never seems to be enough. I’ve only talked about my experience regarding race and ethnicity, but Carleton has ways to go to be a safe space for survivors of sexual assault and other identities. I love Carleton and I don’t regret my choice to come here. But I hesitate to call Carleton home because you should not have to fight to belong and feel safe in a home. Home is where the heart is, but my heart is weary from fighting off loneliness, classism, racism, and sexism. I wrote this article as a reminder that Carleton can be (and is) an uncomfortable and unsafe space for some students. Now that I’m graduating, I can only hope that future students will be able to feel physically and emotionally safe on campus and that one day, students of all identities will be able to easily call Carleton home.


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